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Gunmen kill Arafat's cousin, a key Fatah figure

Israel OK's project to build in West Bank

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip -- Dozens of gunmen stormed the home of deposed Gaza security chief Moussa Arafat before dawn today, dragged him out, and shot him dead in the street, police said.

Arafat, 66, a cousin of the late leader Yasser Arafat, was fired earlier this year by Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas. It was not immediately clear who was responsible for his death. Moussa Arafat was linked to corruption charges and had many powerful enemies.

The gunmen attacked his house in Gaza City with rocket-propelled grenades, engaging his bodyguards in a 30-minute battle before storming the house.

There was no immediate comment from the Palestinian Authority. The brazen killing was certain to shake Palestinian politics. Arafat was a founder of the ruling Fatah movement and was a senior official in the Fatah Revolutionary Council, a top policy-making body. The council had been scheduled to meet later today.

The attack comes amid uncertainty in the occupied territories after Israel forcibly removed Jewish settlers from all their communities in Gaza and from several in the West Bank. The Israeli government said yesterday it has approved construction of 117 houses in the Ariel settlement in the heart of the West Bank.

The announcement -- and suggestions that much larger construction projects are in the pipeline -- was made despite the risk of a US reprimand.

The renewed talk about settlement expansion apparently was part of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's attempt to recapture support in his Likud party after the Gaza pullout. Addressing Likud mayors Monday, Sharon boasted that he built more homes in large West Bank settlements than any other Israeli leader.

The United States has urged Israel not to expand West Bank settlements, in line with a construction freeze under the internationally backed ''road map" peace plan. However, in selling the Gaza pullout to his public, Sharon has said it would allow Israel to strengthen its hold over Jerusalem and parts of the West Bank.

Israeli officials said the 117 houses would be built in the center of Ariel and not expand the settlement's territory. However, the Palestinians said any construction in Ariel is problematic. ''If they insist on keeping the settlement, they will destroy the prospect of a contiguous, viable Palestinian state," said Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat.

In Gaza yesterday, the first clash between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian demonstrators since Israel emptied its settlements there resulted in the death of a Palestinian.

Witnesses said dozens of young Palestinians marched on an empty settlement, and Palestinian police tried to stop them. An Israeli tank approached, and some youths threw rocks at it while others stormed into the settlement, Neve Dekalim. Soldiers opened fire, killing one and wounding three others, doctors said.

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